I run my hand along the scalloped edge of the table we shared for so many years. I remember setting it for the two of us almost every night, sometimes for something fancy and romantic, other times for a simple sandwich and potato chips. There are so many memories of us at this table.
It’s strange to think that I’m setting it now for someone else.
I set the silverware first, and I try to remember the proper place settings. Those were so important to your family, especially your mother. You came from such a different world, one full of strange rules but free from want. Your mother would glare daggers at me over a misplaced salad fork, but you swore you never noticed. I remember the first time your parents came to my house with you. When I left the room, I heard your mother mock me for my poor table manners. I felt like such a fool, but then I heard you tell her that you planned to marry me because I mattered to you more than oyster forks. Later, that would be our little joke, and we amassed a sizable collection of oyster forks to display.
I never dreamed I could love you more fiercely than I did in those days, back when you were healthy and vibrant. I wonder now what loving someone else will feel like. I wonder if I’m truly ready to try.
I lay down two plate settings. They’re the good plates with the little violets on the edges you gave me for our fourth anniversary. I trace the delicate pattern and remember our first date. You showed up on my parents’ doorstep with a bouquet of violets you picked from my neighbor’s garden when you realized you’d forgotten to bring flowers. That was the day you learned my favorite flowers were violets and the day you decided violets were your favorite, too. We were so young then.
I wonder what his favorite flower will be.
I touch the lace tablecloth we bought for our thirteenth anniversary. It’s so delicate, the once-white lace now a lovely antique cream. I remember the first time we used it for a romantic evening, and you spilled red sauce on your side. We tried so many things to get that stain out, but in the end, we couldn’t quite fix it. I always knew which side was yours, and you’d laugh when I laid out the tablecloth accordingly. So tiny that no one else could possibly notice, but still I couldn’t bear to give that side to someone else. Not yet. I smile and tap the little sauce stain next to my plate.
I wonder what lasting changes he will make.
I place the silver candlesticks we bought for our twenty-fifth anniversary and light the taper candles. I think about how you laughed when I picked out the candlesticks. You called them ugly and talked about their heaviness and how they reminded you of the board game Clue. I nicknamed you Colonel Mustard after that. But even though you didn’t find them beautiful, your eyes would still darken with desire when I brought them out for a romantic dinner. You knew how the evening would end.
I wonder if it’s possible for these candlesticks to kindle similar feelings tonight.
I pour the wine into the glasses, careful not to spill a drop. I’m using the wine glasses you bought for our anniversary, the tiny rubies in the stems signifying our forty years together. My heart pinches with guilt for a moment to think of using these with another man, but I know you wouldn’t want the glasses to sit dusty in the cupboard.
The savory scent of chicken cacciatore drifts from the kitchen. My eyes well with tears. This was your favorite meal, and I resisted making it for someone else at first. In the end, though, it’s the only fancy entree I know how to make. I remember sneaking a plate of chicken cacciatore into the hospital like contraband. You were so tired of broccoli and Jell-O, so tired in general. You laughed when I pulled the Tupperware out of my purse, and I cried because I hadn’t heard you laugh in so long. The way your eyes sparkled at the first taste of the savory spices is seared into my heart. The nurse tried to take the container from you when she found out, but you insisted that my cooking was instrumental to your recovery. You didn’t recover, but I know the food brought you joy.
I wonder if he’ll like this meal, too.
I take one last look at this table set for two. I sink into a chair as my heart is crushed by the weight of memories: us having dinners just like this, us irrevocably in love, us promising each other a beautiful forever. I will always hold these memories in my heart, but you made me swear not to close myself away.
I was tempted to break that vow and live my life in the shadow of our years together. Then I met him, and he swept me off my feet despite my cement shoes. He woke my heart again after so much time dormant after such a devastating loss. Still, it’s strange to set the table for someone who isn’t you. This table is rich with your ghost, but you don’t haunt me like I thought you would.
The doorbell rings, and I stand up to answer its call. He’s here. The photo of you and me on the sidebar (better term) catches my eye, front and center in the collection of framed memories. We’re so happy in that photo, moments after the preacher announced that you could kiss me. I spare a moment to touch the carved wooden frame, then I move the photo from its place of honor to a spot behind the one of our son at his college graduation.
You wanted me to move on when you were gone. And now it’s time.